Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes
Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes

Jocelyn Delecour was a trash talker. The anchor man on France’s 4×100 relay team, told Paul Drayton on the American squad that the American team at the Tokyo Olympics wasn’t so good this year. “The only good man you have is Bob Hayes,” said Delecour.

It was pretty arrogant of Delecour to diss Drayton, who captured the silver medal in the 200 meters only a few days before. But the truth of the matter was, the men’s relay team was in disarray. Both Mel Pender, who ran in the 100-meter finals, and Trent Jackson who made it to the semi-finals, were both injured and unavailable, as explained in this post.

Fortunately, substitutions were allowed, so joining Hayes and Gerry Ashworth were Drayton, who had pulled a muscle during the 200-meter finals, and Dick Stebbins, who was another 200-meter sprinter, and fortunately, healthy and ready to run.

When Bob Hayes won the 100-meter finals on October 15, the men’s relay team had to be cobbled together, according to Hayes in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run. Running is one thing, but passing the baton requires precision timing and coordination, which often comes from weeks if not months of practice. Hayes’ team had five days. When Delecour watched the American practice, he was not impressed.

The entire 4×100 competition consisted of three rounds. In the first round, when Stebbins handed the baton to the anchor, Hayes was able to make up the yard he was behind, and finish ahead of the German team, for an overall time of 39.8. Despite the high expectations for the Americans, they could not surpass the World record or even the Olympic record.

Later that day, the American team faced off against the French in the semi-finals. When Hayes received the baton, he was behind again, this time two yards to Delecour. But no matter – Hayes turned on the jets and blew past the French sprinter, setting a team time of 39.5 seconds, which at least matched the Olympic record.

The finals of the 4×100 relay was the next day, October 21. When Hayes ran the individual 100-meter sprint a few days earlier, he ended up in lane one, which was so chewed up by race walkers who had just left the stadium that Hayes fumed at his unfortunate luck. This time, the American’s got lane seven. Psychologically, the Americans needed every break they could get. The pain in Drayton’s leg was bad, and he told his teammates, “Guys, if my leg holds up, I’ll just give you everything I have.”

When the gun went off, Drayton ran the first curve, falling two yards behind the Polish relay team when the baton was passed to Ashworth. The Dartmouth student ran the straightaway effectively, but the baton exchange between Ashworth and Stebbins was not so effective. When Stebbins finally accelerated out of the passing lane, the Americans were in fifth!

Avery Brundage awards gold medals to Drayton Ashworth Stebbins and Hayes
Avery Brundage awards gold medals to Drayton Ashworth Stebbins and Hayes

Stebbins, who like Hayes, had a career in the NFL, ran a strong leg around the second curve. For whatever reason, Stebbins handed the baton to Hayes towards the beginning of the handoff lane, which meant Hayes had nearly ten more meters to run. But if you’re going to have anyone run an extra ten, it should be the fastest man in the world.

When Hayes received the baton, he was behind half the field. But within 30 meters of the anchor leg, Hayes had flown past the Jamaicans, the Russians and the Poles. Another 30 meters later, he blew past Delecour. When Hayes broke the tape, he threw the baton wildly into the air. The Americans set a world record of 39 seconds flat.

The people who witnessed that race say Hayes’ leg was the fastest anyone had ever run. Even today, people debate whether Hayes’ split in the 4×100 in Tokyo was the fastest ever. Some told Hayes he ran 8.4. Others said 8.6. According to this article in speedendurance.com, Hayes’ time was the fastest split with a running start ever:

1.       8.5 (hand time), Bob Hayes, 1964 Tokyo Olympics

2.       8.85, Carl Lewis, 1992 Barcelona Olympics

3.       8.71, Usain Bolt, 2010 Penn Relays

4.       8.70, Asafa Powell, 2008 Beijing Olympics

5.       8.70, Usain Bolt, 2012 London Olympics

And Hayes did it on a cinder track, not the synthetic tracks of today that likely play significantly faster than the tracks of 1964.

As Stebbins said in this Sports Illustrated article, “On my last steps, I was really moving — and Hayes only was in his 12th or 13th stride. But I could feel the force of him about to explode. One more step and he’d had been out of my reach. In 10 yards, he was going as fast as I was after 110. He (Hayes) ran that final 110 yards in 8.4 seconds. Unbelievable. He made up all the distance and won going away. Just to have won under the circumstances would have been superb. But to annihilate ’em was out of the question.”

Gold medalist Drayton walked into the waiting area, the spot before going onto the field where the winners would get their medals. When Drayton spotted the French team, which finished second, he walked up to the captain, and said, “Mr. Delecour, I tried to tell you that Bob Hayes was all we needed.”

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The Amendment Killer cover

Politics and Corruption.

Not as catchy as Death and Taxes, or Love and Marriage – but they go together like a horse and carriage.

In fact, novelists swarm to politics and corruption like moths to flames. Staring into that flickering fire is former Olympian, Ron Barak, who is about to publish a novel, The Amendment Killer.

Barak was a member of the US Men’s Gymnastics team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And while he was also an NCAA champion with the gymnastics team at the University of Southern California, his studies at USC were arguably more critical to his long-term career: a BS in physics and a Juris Doctor of Law.

Barak became a lawyer in the 1970s, among other things, representing athletes as their agent, including football greats Bubba Smith and Ahmad Rashad. Most of Barak’s career was devoted to real estate law, and witnessed first-hand the rise of Japan’s economic influence in the 1980s when the yen overpowered the dollar and Japanese corporations bought up landmark properties and brands overseas.

But as Barak eventually understood, he had a knack for storytelling, and answered a dare from some friends to write a novel. His first novel was a “whodunnit” murder mystery set in D. C. – as Barak puts it, “a story of a political system gone awry and those who felt compelled to fix it.”

Barak’s latest political thriller, The Amendment Killer, hits bookstores in November. Let’s ask Barak a few questions about the book and the journey to his third career (writing following sports first and law second).

What is your novel about?

Modern day Washington, D.C, misconduct on the part of our political representatives has never been worse. In this backdrop, frustrated citizens form a tax-exempt watchdog foundation, The National Organization For Political Integrity (NoPoli), to remind our governmental leaders that they are there to serve, not to be served.

In short order, the membership ranks of NoPoli swells to hundreds of thousands of Americans disgusted by our abhorrent government. NoPoli sponsors and convenes a Constitutional Convention at which a 28th Amendment to the Constitution is adopted to criminalize political abuse and corruption.

Offended by the sudden demise of their many perks and the threat of incarceration, Congress challenges the Amendment and asks the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate it on an expedited basis. Because of the fundamental importance of the Amendment, the Supreme Court agrees to hear and decide the case in one televised week.

As the nine justices take the bench to hear oral argument, the justice expected to cast the deciding vote, Arnold Hirschfeld, receives a text that begins “We have your granddaughter. Here’s what you need to do.” Hirschfeld is warned that his granddaughter will be killed by the end of the one week expedited process if the Amendment is not defeated by the Court—or if word even gets out that his granddaughter is being held to control the outcome of the case.

What is the relevance of your novel to today?

I write first and foremost to entertain my readers, but also to “blur the line between reality and fiction.” In the case of The Amendment Killer, there are at least three such relevant intersections of reality and fiction:

 

Ron Barak portrait
Ron Barak

First, the novel is particularly timely (“ripped from the headlines” some might say), addressing our highly dysfunctional U.S. government. It does this through my hypothetical 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution criminalizing abuse and corruption on the part of our political representatives, which Congress asks the Supreme Court to invalidate. Using my legal background, as well as my political knowledge, I actually drafted such an amendment on my website.  

Second, I introduced diabetes into the novel because, like my young protagonist, Cassie, 30 million Americans today are diabetic. That’s one in ten Americans. That’s epidemic and another highly relevant issue today. 

Third, there are serious ethical issues in the story. Cassie’s grandfather, the Supreme Court justice holding the swing vote in the case, must decide whether he can sacrifice the best interests of the country, and his duty as a Supreme Court justice, to save his granddaughter’s life. Are the best interests of the country worth his young granddaughter’s life? 

Tell me about the character Cassie and why you wanted to create a character who has diabetes?

Part of the reason is that I wanted to draw attention to a disease that is at epidemic levels in the country (and the world) today. It is a subject I know well because I’m diabetic. My wife, Barbie, and I have also committed 50% of the proceeds of The Amendment Killer to diabetes research and education. There are millions in the world today who are diabetic but don’t know it—until it is too late for them. That’s tragic because diabetes can be intelligently well managed today. We have Olympic gold medalists who are diabetic. We have NFL and NBA athletes who are diabetic. Diabetes, if well managed, does not at all have to be a death sentence. Several prominent national diabetes organizations are solidly behind The Amendment Killer because they think Cassie is a poster child for diabetic youngsters. And The Amendment Killer is coming out in November, which is National Diabetes Month!

What inspired you to become a novelist? Were there indications as a youth that you had a storytelling gene?

I wrote my first novel on a dare from some friends. Being somewhat competitive, a trait perhaps attributed to my gymnastics days, I couldn’t turn my back on the challenge. As I wrote that first novel, I discovered that I loved it. I’ve worked hard ever since to learn how to write properly so that I could develop and continue this new pursuit. Some have commented that I simply transitioned from physical gymnastics to mental gymnastics. I don’t know about that, but writing is definitely easier on the joints than physical gymnastics, especially at my age today. I don’t know if I had a storytelling gene, but I actually might have. As a little kid, my dad used to tell stories to my younger brother and me. He had an incredible imagination and a genuine patience in his storytelling. Maybe some of that rubbed off on me because I have discovered how much fun I find it to weave a story. It presents an opportunity to create mystery but to inject humor at the same time. That’s a mix I really enjoy.

What writers have inspired you? Why?

The list is long. I love to read and have for years. I read mostly fiction, but I do occasionally read some non-fiction too. I read to be entertained. Perhaps that’s why I write to entertain. Examples in no particular order are Ian Fleming (James Bond novels, I’ve read every one), John Grisham (I’ve read probably about half of his), Michael Connelly (I’ve read most of his), Lee Child (Jack Reacher novels, I’ve read most of them), Daniel Silva (I’ve read most of his), David Baldacci (I’ve read most of his), Vince Flynn (read most of his too), Robert North Patterson (read most of his), Scott Turow (I’ve read most of his), John Lescroart (I’ve read most of his), Greg Isles (I’ve read most of his). I have also read a lot of Stephen King. And I’ve read a miscellany of lesser known novelists. I’m sure I’ve missed some. As for why, these authors have a few things in common: most of all, they can tell a great story. Beyond that, they keep you guessing and turning the pages.

How has being a 1964 Tokyo Olympian impacted your career?

In countless ways. First, training brought discipline and commitment into my life at a young age, when I didn’t otherwise exhibit much of that and neither did my friends. Second, it was an absolute joy. Third, it provided great education; I got to travel around the world, and I learned how to handle celebrity, not to let it get out of proportion. Fourth, it was a great source of self-confidence and self-esteem; it helped me know that if I put my mind to something, and worked hard at it, I could usually accomplish it. Fifth, along the way, it has opened doors that might not otherwise have opened. (Note: I used numbers here, but I am not prioritizing these things and don’t think I could.) So, in terms of my career, while I was at the near top of my law school class, my Olympic career got me more job offers than might otherwise have been the case, a combination of the celebrity and the maturity and people skills. It didn’t make me a better lawyer, but strong work habits learned in sport probably did.
Stay tuned for the November 1 launch of The Amendment Killer! 

You can pre-order it here now.

Bob Hayes_The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics_1
Bob Hayes, from the book The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics

It’s the Olympics. You’re a football player with blazing speed, and you’re prepping to win gold, to be crowned the fastest man in the world.

But on October 15, 1964, in the midst of the Tokyo Olympics, Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power by Soviet leadership. American journalists, hoping to get a great quote from the biggest name in Tokyo, ask Bob Hayes, “What do you think?”

As he wrote in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, “What did a twenty-one-year-old kid who was trying to win a gold medal at the Olympics know about what was happening in the Soviet Union? I mean, if the experts in the CIA couldn’t see Khrushchev’s downfall coming, what was I supposed to know about it?”

Hayes hit the nail on the head with his response to the press: “I’m just going to answer your question once. I’m here to win a gold medal and not to talk about politics.”

Hayes, like the best high performance athletes, was focused on his mission.  Gold in the 100-meter finals. Gold in the 4×100-meter relays.

And yet….there’s always something.

It is hours before the finals of the 100-meter dash on October 15. Hayes is sitting in his room in the Olympic Village with the hopes of keeping himself calm. His roommate, long jumper Ralph Boston, is lying on his bed, keeping to himself.

Then walks in Joe Frazier, boxing heavyweight contender, who bounced into Hayes’ room a “bundle of nerves, but especially that day because he had an important boxing match coming up. He started throwing punches at my head. I asked him to leave me alone, so he went over to Ralph’s bed and threw jabs up to within an inch or two of Ralph’s head.”

Needless, to say, the eventual gold medal and heavyweight champion of the world was a distraction. Not getting the reaction he wanted, Frazier began rummaging Hayes’ bag for gum, stuck it in his mouth, and left.

Bob Hayes_The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics_3
Receiving his gold medal for the 100 -meters finals, from the book, The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics

Flash forward to the National Stadium and the fastest runners in the world are prepping for the 100-meter finals. Hayes gets to the track and opens his bag to pull out his shoes. To his surprise, he finds only his right shoe. He dumps the contents of his bag and can’t find the left shoe. “The biggest race of my life, and I was missing a shoe.”

But who walks by but middle distance runner and teammate, Tom Farrell. Hayes has relatively small feet and is hoping against hope that Farrell happens to have the same size shoes – size eight. So when Farrell replied to Hayes’ sudden and unusual question, he said “Well, I wear size eight.”

Not only did Farrell wear the same size shoe, he also wore the Adidas 100 shoe that Hayes’ did. Now, properly attired for battle, Hayes lined up.

And then he learned that Hayes was placed in lane 1. Lane 1 is the innermost lane on the track, and the cinder track had been chopped up by some three dozen race walkers for three circles before heading out on the rest of their 20K journey. Don’t the fastest runners in the semis get the choice middle lanes? Not at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where sprinters were assigned lanes randomly.

So Hayes set up his blocks. His biggest rivals, Cuban Enrique Figuerola and Canadian Harry Jerome were in the less chewed up lanes 3 and 5. As he got set at his mark, the muscular Hayes was a tightly wound coil ready to spring, ticked off about his lane placement. “I was totally intense, the more so because iw as angry about having to run in the inside lane. Finally, I picked out a spot straight ahead of me down the track and vowed that I was going to get there before anyone else did.”

He did. Convincingly. Watch the video from the 3’ 55” mark to watch the black and white footage of the race. The angle is long enough to show the entire field. And you can see Hayes dominating the field from start to finish. Fastest Man in the World. By far.

 

Gold medal in hand, Hayes returned to his room. Hidden under his bedspread was the missing shoe. The next time he saw Joe Frazier, he shouted “’Don’t you ever go in my bag again!’ That was about the only time I ever saw Joe Frazier apologetic.”

Bob Hayes – fastest man in the world – bringing new meaning to the phrase “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

Bob Hayes_number five_Los Angeles Trials_Pathe
Bob Hayes (5) winning the US Track Trials in_Los Angeles_Pathe

It’s simple physics. The fastest you run, the harder it is to turn suddenly. And when you’re built like a freight train, as Bob Hayes was, and the track began curving just at the end of the 100-meter finish line, you either have to turn that curve at top speed, or head straight into a brick wall.

Hayes wasn’t at Rutgers to study physics. It was June 27, 1964, and he was competing in the national championships of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in New Jersey. Hayes was already anointed Olympic champion in the 100 meters by prognosticators, months before the start of the Games. But he still had to qualify for the US track team heading to Tokyo.

At that time, there were two trials to be held – one in Randall’s Island, NY in July, and the other a couple of months later in Los Angeles, California. But first, Hayes had to negotiate a curve in New Jersey. At the 60-meter mark, Hayes felt a twinge in his left thigh, so he eased up. He still won the race, but he was bearing hard on the brick wall, so he stumbled around the curve, slowing down to a limp.

Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA
Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA_AP_September 9, 1964

Hayes headed right to the training room, got prone face down on the table, and understood fairly quickly, as his trainer picked and probed his leg, that something was wrong. It was indeed a pulled hamstring.

Only 75 days from the Olympics, his hammie had let him down. But Hayes thought that he did not have 75 days to heal. He had only a little over a week to heal before the first Olympic track trials were held during the July 4th weekend. And heal, he did not. At the end of the two-day track trials at Randall’s Island, Hayes could only watch and grimace in pain, both physical and psychological. The flash from Florida had to wait, wondering whether the powers that be would grant him an exception so that he can participate in the second trial in Los Angeles.

The US men’s track coach, Bob Giegengack, strolled alongside Hayes, making small talk, before saying, “We voted to advance you to Los Angeles, Bob.”

So Bullet Bob, dodged a bullet, as it were.

Hayes’ hamstring improved, but he only dared to train with light jogging. And when mid-September and his date with destiny at the final track and field trials rolled around, Hayes was so nervous he could not sleep. He had gained ten pounds and he had yet to go full speed in the recuperation period since the AAU national championships.

And when he was on his way to the Coliseum, the stadium where the Olympic trials were being held, Hayes had a scare. He got in an elevator joined by discus throwers Al Oerter and Jay Silvester, as well as shot put thrower, Dallas Long. As Hayes explained in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, the three of them alone weighed nearly half a ton. The elevator refused to work, and so Hayes, in a hurry to get to his sprinting trials, was waiting nervously for nearly 10 minutes. The doors were eventually clawed open, so that Hayes could pull himself up three feet to get out, and then jogged to the stadium, negotiating highway traffic to the stadium and the trials in time.

Hayes made it in time. When he lined up to race, he saw sprinters whom he had beaten multiple times, but he did not know if his hamstring could take full speed. No time like the present.

When the gun went off, Hayes started somewhat tentatively. But nearly halfway through the race, the locomotive gathered steam. Once Hayes had the lead, it continued to grow. The Bullet blazed to victory in 10.1 seconds.

Thanks to the coaches, Hayes was saved in Randall’s Island to live another day. And Hayes paid back his coaches’ faith in him by drubbing the field. Hayes was headed for Tokyo.

 

Watch Hayes victory in Los Angeles at the 11 second mark of this video.

Multiple choice question:

The top activity for foreign tourists in Japan is:

  • a) Shopping  
  • b) Eating Japanese Food  
  • c) Getting Swallowed Up by Hundreds of People Wading Through the Famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing While Attempting to Take a Selfie  
  • d) Visiting All of the Sites/Buildings Godzilla has Knocked Down and Blazed to the Ground in His Career
  • e) All of the Above

According to the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA), which recently released the results of its Q1 2017 survey of foreign tourists visiting Japan, the answer is……

b) Eating Japanese Food

As explained in Terrie Lloyd’s blog, Terrie’s Take, “69.1% (of the foreign tourists surveyed) listed food as their top anticipated experience, followed 16 points further back by 52.5% wanting to go shopping. Perhaps even more importantly, the JTA’s survey of people exiting Japan lists the Number One experience during the trip as ‘Eating Japanese food’, which came in at an amazing 95.3%! Next after food was shopping, at 83.5%.”

 

Sushi
Three of my favorites!

 

Lloyd went on to provide interesting insight from the survey. He noted that the most popular Japanese dishes were sushi, ramen, Wagyu steak or sukiyaki. He also added that depending on the region from where the tourists come, the Japanese food of choice differs.

For travelers from Vietnam, India, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, Canada, or France, the number one choice is sushi.

For tourists from Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, United Kingdom, United States, or Australia, the number one craving is ramen.

 

And for those travelling foodies from South Korea or Hong Kong it’s all about the beef – wagyu steak or sukiyaki.

I can’t argue with sushi, ramen and Wagyu. Frankly, they are so good here, I’d eat any of those items only in Japan if I had the choice.

 

Wagyu
One of my very good dinners.

Rhein Ruhr 2032 map

Despite the growing fears of the Olympics as financial albatross, and thus the diminishing number of cities interested in hosting an Olympics, interest in the 2032 Summer Games is, strangely enough, popping.

As explained in post 1, India is investing in a study to determine the feasibility of hosting the Summer Olympics after Paris and Los Angeles. Perhaps more surprising, after the citizens of Hamburg voted against the bid in a referendum in November, 2015, 13 cities in an area called North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany have already put forth a preliminary plan to host the 2032 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Instead of making a single city the focal point, Dusseldorf and Cologne will be two large centers of sporting activity, surrounded by nine other cities, including Bonn and Essen, that will host sports venues. According to the site, SportsPro, “Over 80 per cent of venues are already said to be available, including 16 stadiums with more than 30,000 seats and 24 large sports halls.”

By expanding the number of locales, and thus the number of ready-to-go sports venues, costs can be kept reasonably low, which is certainly in line with what both IOC and local populations expect.

The flip side of the so-called Rhein Ruhr bid is that the “Athletes First” guiding philosophy takes a hit, as explained in Gamesbid.com:

Germany’s option would lessen the risk that the IOC fears, but the widespread plan is poised to damage the overall athletes and Games experience that is core draw of the Olympic Movement.  There are no details in the plans that describe the Olympic Village, but with over one-hour travel time between Düsseldorf and many venues, transportation and the use of a single Olympic Village could be a concern.

Thomas Bach and Narendra Modi
Thomas Bach and Narendra Modi

Bidders for the 2022 Winter Games were so few that the IOC ended up with a winning city, Beijing, that does not get much snow, and thus will have to manufacture it to hold ski competitions.

Bidders for the 2024 Summer Games dropped like flies – Boston, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest – forcing IOC to take its two remaining bids of LA and Paris, and offer them both the next two Olympiads, for fear of not having a decent bid for 2028.

And yet, despite the mounting dissatisfaction in localities where hosting the Olympics are most possible, India is gearing up for a 2032 bid for the Summer Olympics. According to Around the Rings, India’s Sports Ministry is about to initiate a feasibility study into a possible bid in order to convince the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, who has his doubts. “A study backed by the Indian Sports Ministry could help convince Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to flip his position on bringing the Olympics to the country for the first time.”

If the study indicates that India could organize an Olympics in 2032, then the India Olympic Association will ask the ministry officially for approval to make an official bid.

Modi had actually declined an invitation from IOC president, Thomas Bach, to make a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics on the heels of a corruption scandal that was reported during India’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games. It is also likely that Modi wondered whether the Olympics would be the right area of focus amidst all of its social, financial and infrastructure needs. But Modi appears to be a man of data and facts, so the study is an attempt to provide a rationale and a plan.

According to The Times of India, a ministry source has stated:

We are keen on understanding where the country stands before we decide upon the future course of action. All things that go into hosting the Games will be discussed as we pose ourselves the question whether it is desirable and practical and whether we ought to consider bidding for Olympics at any point.

As a “practice run” to the Olympics, the India Olympic Association is also requesting the sports ministry to approve a bid for the 2030 Asian Games.

So will we see a New Delhi 2032 Campaign? We’ll find out 8 years from now in 2025, when the IOC is currently scheduled to begin the 2032 selection process.

So, yeah, don’t hold your breath.

Voskhod_1_004

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were not the only news on October 13 and 14. The Soviet Union’s rocket, The Voskhod, orbited the earth 15 times from October 12-13 – the first spaceship to send more than one person into space. In a recorded conversation between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and mission commander, Valdimir Komarov, Khrushchev swelled with pride, while Komarov spoke with modest confidence of the need to complete the mission.

What is fascinating to me was the constant reference to the sound quality. In the 14 exchanges, 10 had references to the sound. Here are the last three exchanges of this very long-distance conversation, as published in this October 13 New York Times article:

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully. Well, I wish you, dear comrades and friends, good luck in the cosmos. The most important wish is for a happy landing on earth.

COLONEL KOMAROV: Thank you very much, Nikita Sergeievich, we could hear you excellently as if we are talking in Moscow on a normal telephone. We understood you. Everything is in order here.

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you quite well. Just as everything is in order at this very minute I hope everything is in order at this very last minute of your flight. The people here are triumphantly excited and are proud of you. We are waiting here for you on earth. Good-by.

Competition between the Soviet Union and the United States was so intense in the early 1960s that the quality of the video and audio transmissions from space were scrutinized closely, a mini-technology Olympics of sorts. According to Kyodo-Reuters, they noted that “Western observers” were impressed with the video transmission, remarking that “the quality of the space TV relay was higher than when pictures were relayed to earth from American spaceman Leroy Gordon Cooper’s ship Faith 7 in May 1963.” However, “the quality of the recording was poor and individual speakers could not be distinguished….”

Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov
Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov

Were the Soviet leaders and cosmonauts lying about how clearly they heard each other? Were the reports by “Western observers” an exaggeration? Who knows. Cold War trash talking was de rigeur in the sixties.

At any rate, the achievements of the Voskhod appeared to be advantage Russia. After all, NASA did not send a two-man crew into space until five months later. This AP report on October 13 quoted a British newspaper, The Guardian, as stating:

It now seems certain the Russians will get to the moon before the Americans….the (Soviet) crew….will probably knew enough about the behavior of the human body in a weightless condition (and perhaps also in an artificial atmosphere containing helium instead of nitrogen) to predict something approaching certainty a date when prolonged space travel will be feasible. All men in all countries will accept the Russian’s achievements for what they are – a triumph not just for Communists but for questing mankind.

Another third party agreed that the Soviets may have taken the lead in the space race, but they added concern with the competition. The only nation to be devastated by the most technologically advanced weaponry of its time, the atomic bomb, the editors of The Japan Times explained in an October 14 opinion piece that continued technological one-upmanship between the two superpowers could eventually lead to wars among the stars.

Among the objectives of the Voskhod’s flight mentioned by Tass is the carrying out of an extended medico-biological research in the conditions of a long flight. We may perhaps take it for granted that Soviet Russia has by no means given up the idea of placing a man on the moon. Recently, this has been regarded as an American ambition rather than a Soviet one, and it may be that the Russians are more eager to place in orbit around the earth a space laboratory or even an orbital military station. We must wait the denouement – which may not be long in coming.

It is a sad reflection that in an age in which mankind has achieved the capacity to investigate outer space that we should have to think of the possible military use of the capabilities which are now being constantly added to, but we must accept the grim facts of our situation. There are still serious tensions on earth, and if these should ever burst into conflict we may be sure an effort would be made to use outer space for military purposes. While this possibility exits, the two great nations – the United States and Soviet Russia – feel the need to watch closely each other’s progress in space, if for no other reason.

The Americans and Soviets did not need added incentive to beat each other at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And yet, the achievements of the Voskhod probably put a little spring into the steps of the Russians. At least for a few days. Only three days after the Voskhod successfully landed, leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, the man who famously said to the United States “We will bury you,” was unexpectedly removed from power.

A clip from the film, The Right Stuff: a glimpse of the American sense of urgency in the space race of the 1960s.

Voskhod Japan Times headline

Yoshinobu Miyake was the first Japanese to win a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But that wasn’t good enough to secure the biggest headline on the front page of The Japan Times on Tuesday, October 13, 1964.

Instead, the full-page headline blared: “Soviets Orbit Three-Man Spaceship”.

On Monday, October 12, the rocket ship, Voskhod, blasted off from a town named “Baikonur” in the southern part of the then-Soviet Union, a town near the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. The ship held three cosmonauts: command pilot Vladimir Komarov, engineer Konstantin Feoktistov, and medical doctor Boris Yegorov.

The launch was 10:30 am Moscow time, which, with the six-hour time difference, was 4:30 pm Tokyo time. About three hours later, in the early evening, Voskhod transmitted a message to the world, as the second day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics was coming to a close:

Voskhod (l to r) Konstantin Feoktistov, Vladimir Komarov,Boris Yegorov.
Konstantin Feoktistov, Vladimir Komarov, Boris Yegorov.

Flying over Tokyo we convey ardent greetings to the youth of the world participating in the 18th Olympic Games which are called upon to play a big role in strengthening the cooperation and mutual understanding of sportsmen of all continents, in the rapprochement of peoples, and is consolidating the cause of peace.

Perhaps as a dig to their American competitors in the Olympic Village, Soviet officials and athletes there were reported to take the news in stride, according to the Yomiuri. “I knew it was coming off two weeks ago, before I left Moscow,” one Soviet sports official said. “It’s nothing special any more. We’re doing these things all the time,” a Soviet athlete commented.

And yet, this was not just geo-political gamesmanship, sending a ship into orbit during the biggest international event in the world. The Voskhod was a significant advancement in space travel, as it was the first space flight to:

  • send more than one person into space
  • not require the spacemen to wear spacesuits (in fact, they appeared to the press to be wearing overalls, or “ordinary clothes”)
  • send an engineer or a medical doctor into space
  • Climb as high as 336 kilometers from the earth’s surface.

The Voskhod, “Sunrise” in English, orbited the earth 15 times. As it took 90 minutes for the ship to orbit once, the entire time in space was close to 23 hours. During that time, the three cosmonauts were very active, conducting experiments, taking pictures, and noting observations, according to this site called RussianSpaceWeb.com.

During the mission, Komarov piloted and oriented the spacecraft in space, while Feoktistov had responsibility for observations and photography of the Earth, as well as the work with the sextant, an experiment studying the behavior of the liquid in weightlessness, monitoring and recording characteristics of newly installed ion sensors relative to the velocity vector of the spacecraft. All these responsibilities left Feoktistov little time for sleep. Still, the crew was able to fulfill a lot: cosmonauts took several hundred photos of the Earth’s surface, hurricanes, clouds and ice sheets, sunsets and sunrises, the Sun and the horizon. The crew was able to discern several layers of the atmosphere with different levels of brightness, which could help to provide more accurate angular elevation of stars over the horizon, if it would be necessary to determine the ship’s exact position in space. In the meantime, Yegorov conducted his medical studies. To the surprise of his crew mates, Yegorov succeeded with most of his program of taking blood samples, measuring pressure and pulse.

After the 15th orbit, Voskhod entered the earth’s atmosphere and returned safely, landing in a field on a state farm. Different from landings by American spaceships, which send the returning capsules splashing down into the ocean, the Soviet Union brings them back to terra firma. Figuring out soft landings are thus an imperative, and it appears that Soviet scientists and engineers had made advancements in braking methods, employing parachutes and applying retro-rockets just before hitting the surface.

So on the third day of competition the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, “Sunrise” again was the biggest headline in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Nihonbashi 1960
Nihonbashi in 1960
Nihonbashi recently
Nihonbashi in more recent years.

There were many who saw the spreading spiderweb of elevated expressways crisscrossing Tokyo in the 1960s as progress. There were many others who groaned at the growing eyesore of concrete ceilings blotting out the sky. The expressway section in particular that gets the elderly sighing in memory of yesteryear is the one totally covering Nihonbashi.

Built originally in 1603 out of wood, Nihonbashi, was the start and end point for travelers between Edo (as Tokyo used to be called) and Kyoto (the imperial capitol). In fact, Nihonbashi, which literally translates as Japan Bridge, used to be called Edobashi.

Nihonbashi circa 1922
Nihonbashi circa 1922

In 1911, the bridge was rebuilt with steel and stone, and stayed intact despite the firebombing of American planes during the end of the second world war. For centuries, Nihonbashi, when you crossed from east to west, provided an unimpeded view of Mount Fuji. But as Japan-hand and author, Robert Whiting wrote in The Japan Times, the expressway built over Nihonbashi just prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was a travesty.

I remember taking a walk along the canal to see the famous bridge, shortly before the games began. I was dismayed to see its once-charming appearance completely ruined by the massive highway just a few feet overhead, like a giant concrete lid, obliterating the sky. The smell from the toxic water in the canal was so offensive I had to cover my nose. I imagined Mt. Fuji, looking on from afar, doing the same.

The reconstruction effort for the Olympics cost Tokyo much of its navigable waterways. By planting the supporting columns of the highways and other structures in the water below, many river docks were rendered useless, costing even more jobs. Water stagnated, fish died and biochemical sludge, known as hedoro in Japanese, formed.

According to Whiting, while government officials would have preferred to build the expressways underground, they could not raise enough funds to cover all of the infrastructure projects and the additional cost of buying up land in the middle of the city. Elevated highways made it less necessary to purchase land that would instantly increase in value. So up went the highways, over canals and roads, darkening shops and skimming buildings.

Metropolitan Expressway over Nihonbashi being built
The Metropolitan Expressway route being constructed over the historic Nihonbashi bridge in Chuo Ward in 1963 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Over half a century later, the Japanese government has finally resolved that it is time for Nihonbashi to see the light. Land and Transport Minister, Keiichi Ishii, announced on July 21, 2017 that Tokyo will initiate a project to remove the elevated roads above the bridge, and find another place for it underground. As he said in this Asia-Nikkei article, “Nihonbashi is the source of Japan’s roads. It will be reborn as a place where you can see the clear sky.”

The work won’t begin until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But the plan is there. And a wrong will finally be righted.